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Republicans and Free Labor


Republicans and Free Labor


Many people believe that Republicans wanted to abolish slavery because they viewed it as an immoral and evil institution. Some abolitionists used their religious beliefs to shape political debates over the issue of slavery. In an article, the Harper’s Weekly stated, “Side by side with our brothers and friends, upon the soil of both the Carolinas, the colored men, to whom we had given no special cause to love us or to believe in us, fought for our Government and shared our victory.” ("Our Duty In Reorganization") This sentence is pulled from a larger paragraph discussing the belief that all men are equal, a phrase that carries religious significance and a position held by Harper’s Weekly staff as supported by their use of the term “brothers” to refer to African Americans. While some abolitionists wanted former slaves to have equal rights and freedoms based off of their religious beliefs, a lot of Republicans did not support slavery because it infringed on their ideas of capitalism and free labor. In Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War, Eric Foner argued, “Moderate and conservative Republicans were especially attracted by the argument against slavery based on political economy, because it was a means of diverting attention from what they regarded as the troublesome and inflammatory moral dimension of the slavery controversy.” (Foner 1970, 61) For Republicans, the main argument against slavery in the South was not that it infringed on African American rights. It was that it stagnated the southern economy. They argued that planters were content to keep the system as it was and this prevented them from reinvesting back into the plantations to improve them and make the economy run more efficiently, efficiency being something that a capitalist society strives for. Republicans also believed that the biggest hindrance to African Americans was that they were not given the opportunity for self-improvement and economic advancement. Republicans believed that because they had no hope of economic improvement slaves were not as motivated. As Foner states, “Some Republicans even insisted that the real issue between the parties was not slavery at all but the degradation of labor.” (Foner 1970, 62)


Foner, Eric. "The Republican Critique of the South." In Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War, 40-72. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Harper's Weekly. "OUR DUTY IN REORGANIZATION." June 24, 1865.


Ryan Eubanks


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Ryan Eubanks, Republicans and Free Labor, Civil War Era NC, accessed May 21, 2024,